The latest episode of the locally-produced historical podcast Tales from Rat City examines a little-known aspect of Ballarat's past: the significant numbers and contributions of African migrants to the city from the time of the gold rush.
While the podcast tells the story of the most notable of the African citizens present at the Eureka Stockade, the refreshment vendor and African-American John Joseph who was accused of shooting Captain Henry Wise, it also looks at the wider African presence in Ballarat at the time, which was substantial.
The podcast was produced with the support of Dr Michael Akindeju, president of the Ballarat African Association, and members of Ballarat's African community who narrated and voiced the episode.
The story of John Joseph is the story of many Africans on the Victorian goldfields in its scarcity of information. Little is known of his life before Eureka, or after.
It's thought he was in his early 40s when he died in Bendigo in 1858, but aside from the transcript of the trial hearing, where it was alleged he carried a pike and double-barrelled shotgun, not much is known.
Dr Akindeju says John Joseph was one of many Africans who came to Australia to escape servitude and slavery.
"The earliest history we have is that of Africans who came from the south and southern part of Africa into Australia as early as 1805," he says.
"They settled around Sydney and in NSW. But during the gold rush in Victoria, we have a number of them arriving. So there has been a number of Africans, not a few, but a fair number of them, that did settle in Australia as early as the 1800s.
They were not only miners, they were singers and storytellersDr Michael Akindeju, Ballarat African Association
"In fact at the trial of John Joseph, the defence put a question which showed there were more than a few Africans present, by asking a witness for the prosecution, 'How can you be sure it was this black man you saw?' So there must have been more than just two or three present."
David Waldron co-author of Pay Dirt: Ballarat and Other Gold Towns says it was likely Joseph was part of a large group of itinerant African-Americans who ended up in the Australian colonies.
"Many of them have been slaves or former slaves, and of course there's quite a long tradition of African- American men in the US maritime industry. What seems to be the case is John Joseph is one of the many who jumped ship and came ashore looking for gold," he says.
"Many of them were miners, but also many came across and were quite well-regarded as cooks, for example, and people being entrepreneurs, businessmen - really all walks of life. But there was an overall racial structure, if you like, to how records of people's lives are kept, where they're far more reliable regarding those of the white, wealthy colonists."
Other men and women of colour on the goldfields came from other parts of Africa. Many claimed Caribbean heritage, which offered them protection under British law, unlike Americans such as Joseph. One of those was a fellow accused, John Campbell.
However, while white Americans at Eureka were offered consular assistance, a black man like John Joseph received no such counsel. At his trial, he was represented by two volunteer barristers, Aspinall and Chapman.
The trial transcripts are startling in their open use of racial stereotypes - especially by Joseph's defence, who strove to portray their client as a kind of simpleton. Whether Joseph himself was in on the ruse is still a matter of conjecture. The Crown prosecution certainly seemed to think it was a determined show all up:
"One learned counsel's defence seemed to consist of this - that he supposed the prisoner now before you, because he happened to be a man of colour, was a man utterly devoid of intellect, utterly without education, a man who really did not entertain one single idea in his head. Gentlemen, I know no such thing - you know no such thing," Attorney-General William Stawell opined.
It was to no avail. The Crown case was weak, and the jury acquitted John Joseph in under 30 minutes. Outside a crowd of 10,000 - a tenth of Melbourne's population - acclaimed him as he was chaired through the streets on the shoulders of supporters.
Dr Akindeju says some of the Africans in the colony travelled between the towns working as entertainers, with records showing they certainly moved between Sandhurst (later Bendigo) and Ballarat.
"They were not only miners, they were singers and storytellers," he says.
Dr Waldron says despite the indication of the trial transcripts, racial harmony was stronger on the goldfields.
"In writing this podcast, I came across a number of letters of African-Americans who settled in Australia, for instance, opposing legislation directed against the Chinese community, saying that they'd experienced this kind of thing in the United States and had no desire to see it here.
"Indeed, around that debate, there's a number of people that came across saying that the African American immigrants to Australia had nothing like the negative representative representation that the Chinese had developed at this stage. Inevitably, racial conflict occurs.
"I do find it interesting, though, when you look at John Joseph after the trial coming out and speaking to Raffaello Carbone, essentially talking about how the defence made him put on a servile persona in order to fit stereotypes and make it more likely for him to be acquitted, to be someone who couldn't possibly be a ringleader."
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